Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Spider Sense

I believe everyone has a story to tell. Some people are shy and reserved while others wear their past on their sleeves. My friend, George De Los Santos, aka Spider, aka Spiderflesh, not only wears his life on his tattoo sleeve, he shares his story with those that may benefit from learning about his past.

He grew up in various cities south of LA from Bell Gardens to Compton and finally Huntington Park. "I’ve always known we were poor. That has been something I accepted and was humbled by. My mother has always been a worker. Not so much in a 'job' but more so in side-jobs that pay," said George as I asked about his childhood. "My 'real' dad was not around much and when he was it just lead to disappointment so I’ve not sought him out anymore. I have learned to appreciate my mother over the years as I became a parent but there were many years that I resented some of her actions as I was growing up. I later realized that she’s human and did the best she could with what she had and knew."

Not one to cause trouble as a kid, George followed the rules but as the years went on, "I found myself wanting to battle more and more. I always felt different so why not look it," he said. "My first tattoo was a small spider I have on my right shoulder. My brother did it for me when we were in high school at 15 years old.  We made a tattoo machine out of a spoon, guitar string, mechanical pencil and race car motor," he explained. The tattoo was to symbolize the nickname given to him by his fellow gang members. Getting high and drunk in alleys was a typical party night for George. "Most of the times I went to a party I was too damn shy or nervous to talk to anyone and I didn’t feel like I belonged there so I’d want to leave. There were girls but being as self conscious as I was, I would never talk to them, so I got high. That quieted my head. It made me belong anywhere I went." Except perhaps on his way to jail. "The day I got jumped into the gang, I was arrested. The police thought my black-eye was from a gang fight and that we were going to retaliate." His sentence was one year under house arrest. To get by, he focused on school and drawing.

"I knew I had a drinking problem many years ago---when I heard that I did things I typically wouldn’t do or treat people the way I never would. It started out as fun but later would become a battle. I was always trying not to overshoot the mark of feeling good. I was desperate to keep the good feeling so I kept pouring in the booze. Next thing you know I’m slurring and spitting on you when I spoke," he confessed. Although he tried to control his drinking, he failed each time. "Thinking about it now I don’t know if I really wanted to quit. I just didn’t want the shame or demoralization to continue." It wasn't until a couple of doctor visits provided him the wake up call he needed. "The doctor said 'you have to quit. You are 27 and you’re borderline heart attack.' My reply was 'I don’t know how. I don’t know how not to drink.' That started my road to recovery. I knew my wife deserved a better life than what I was set to give her in the condition I was in. She deserved a better man."

George's sleeves: Wife and son on left, him on the right.
George met Paty through a mutual friend. "I had known about her being a great person for some time. However, my life was in a bit of a chaotic phase so I decided that it was not a good time to introduce myself. I had to remove myself from it as much as possible and then move forward." What would any girl see in a wild partying gang-member I asked. "She always says she like that I made her laugh. That and she saw behind the vampire-dressed, long hair guy with black fingernails," said George. I stand corrected. What would any girl see in a wild partying, vampire-dressed, long-haired gang-member, with black fingernails? What he saw in her was a loving and caring person that saw the real him, a nice guy, deep down inside. "I loved her smile, the red in her hair and the way her top fit her body. I loved her laugh and her independence. In the span of a 10-minute chat we had at the Relay for Life in Long Beach I knew I really liked her. I like to think I loved her then and that’s why she stuck in my mind so much. I can still feel that now about her." On August 25, 2001, George and Paty married.

Now on his road to sobriety, George was bored. Looking to occupy his time and being more alert than ever, he attempted his hand at airbrushing and pinstriping to no avail. While in school, he enjoyed sketching in class or at home. He even painted murals at his high school, San Antonio Continuation in Huntington Park. One of which is still there. His idea to pursue leatherwork came when he wanted to make himself a bag to carry his drawing pad, pencils and cigars or pipes. "I made a bag using some pleather pieces I got at the Paramount Swapmeet. I wanted to put my art on the bag so a friend gave me some tools his dad no longer used. I did research and set out to make over 75 leather skulls, each with it’s own personality. I would make about 3 to 5 a day for over 15 days straight just to get the practice," he said.

Requinto strap for Ulises Bella of Ozomatli
Who does leatherwork now-a-days? I've seen elaborate leather saddles engraved by masterful hands that have since come to pass. When I think of leatherwork, I picture rough and tumbled cowboys sitting in a barn or near some wooden posts grunting about the good ole days. The last thing I picture is a tatted Chicanito buying leather slabs to work in his East LA garage, next to a skull-embellished motorcycle. "I started off by myself. I didn’t know even the right type of leather to tool on. I tried on garment leathers and suede but that was so wrong. Later I would do research and found an online community of leatherworkers. They were all willing to critique my work when asked and give tips on do’s and don’ts. But mostly they were encouraging and appreciated my different style of art. I was never too proud to ask questions and that helped me a lot. I also never stick to one style of art so this way I don’t cheat myself out of learning many different techniques," said George.  

In 2005, George and Paty had a son. As much as he denies liking kids to keep his tough guy image, those around him know he's one fun loving father. "I'd have to say that my priorities have changed completely with fatherhood. I'm not as selfish as I used to be and I want to be there for my son especially since my father was never there for me. I want to protect him, but also teach him about life. I love him like I've never known I could love. I was my worst enemy and biggest critic and now I accept myself as I am. As God has made me. And I do my best to better myself. I stay teachable."

George now spends his time as a full-time structural designer by day, leatherworker by night. He's fulfilled orders for musicians, actors, and fans alike with a non-stop influx of custom creations on back-order. On Fridays, you can find George in a South LA group meeting for Alcoholics Anonymous. This week, George celebrates 10 years of sobriety.

Johnny Depp's skull & cross bones tattoo inspired this custom wallet.


More Spiderflesh custom creations

Images courtesy of the artist.


  1. Very nice work, original and from the heart

  2. Love the story. George is a great person. I've become a big fan of his work and of him. Just goes to show, no matter where you come from or what you didn't have growing up, should be an excuse to fail. I'm proud to say George is my friend. I can say this story has even made me learn a little more about myself. Keep the awesome creations coming!

  3. Sorry all.... I meant should NOT be an excuse to fail, in life.


  4. Thanks for all of your comments. His is a truly inspiring story!

  5. Spider, you already know I'm a fan of your work and that I show off all my Spiderflesh pieces proudly! Congrats on the write-up and all the positive things you got going on! Who's my favorite leather guy, huh? *pinches your cheeks* :] Lol!

  6. Thank you all for kind words and thank you Yadhira for taking interest in my story. I am blessed to have pulled through the rough times growing up and after that and don't plan on giving up on this life anytime soon.

    George "Spider" De Los Santos

  7. I work with George during the day and he is always so positive and helpful in sharing his design knowledge. His story is inspirational and he is an amazing person! Whenever he has a moments down time you can catch him tooling away a new piece, which are always so awesome and it's really cool to see the process of it all. I'm lucky to get to work next to such a unique individual everyday!!

  8. I have not yet had the honor to meet George, but hopefully one of these days....nice write up! Arlene

  9. Really cool story. Thank you for sharing, to both Yadhira & Spider :)